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Ouch, that Hertz

So, at last, a "proper" holiday... I (or, to be more accurate, my wife) decided that we'd earned a break and were well overdue a holiday. Of course, the way she approached the issue was rather less obvious than that. "I've decided that Carol (her sister) and I are going to have a few days away - she needs a break", I was told. "Fine", I said, "Where are you thinking of going?" "Well, we thought it would be nice to go over to Ireland" was the reply, "We've never been there and everyone says how nice it is". "We'll rent a car and see the sights, take in some of the relaxing atmosphere, and drink some real Guinness at the same time".

Now, she knows that I've always wanted to see the Emerald Isle, and that I am particularly partial to Guinness. She also knows that I know her map-reading abilities are less than optimal. Her idea of figuring out where we are from a map is to rotate it continuously until the colour of the road on the map matches the colour of the house whose driveway we have temporarily taken refuge in, or the road number bears a passing resemblance to one she saw on a sign somewhere within the last few days. Rapidly followed by depositing a screwed-up map on my lap and a loud "Well, you figure out where we are...!" I, of course, was too polite (scared) to mention this, and was therefore quite relieved when she added "If you like, you can come with us and do the driving..."


Climbing through Connor Pass, near Dingle

Waterfall at the top of the pass

Looking down to Dingle from the pass

So that was it. Fire up the Web browser, wander over to Ryanair.com and book the flights - and only about 30 pounds ($50) each. Follow this with a search that turned up a nice cottage to rent for a reasonable price, near to Shannon airport as well. Then book a rental car. After looking at some rental companies I'd never heard of ("Fred's Fairly New Auto Rental" and "Unreliable Cars Limited"), we settled on a nice motor from Hertz. OK so it wasn't cheap, but you know where you are with the big international companies.


The deserted beach at Ventry, near Dingle

Dingle town main street, everything on the right is a bar

Ireland's West Coast, facing the Atlantic, is an extremely beautiful place. Some parts are very much like the Dales here in Derbyshire - wonderful green and rolling countryside. Some parts are like the Derbyshire Peak District - high moors with wandering sheep and heather (the sheep wander, the heather stays still). And some parts are wild with crashing waves, incredible cliffs, and beautiful and almost deserted beaches. Deserted, that is, except for an amazing number of people surfing. In fact, one town - Lahinch in County Clare - seemed to consist of just surfing equipment shops and bars. As usual, the trusty "digi" collected some vague and unremarkable photos, as you can see here.


The deserted beach at Inch, near Dingle

The tide is out, but the restaurant (and bar) is really nice

So, other than the mostly continual rain - we experienced the tail-end effects of Hurricane Gordon - we had a really good time. The villages are mostly picturesque, and very old-fashioned (my sister-in-law remarked that it was very much like driving through rural France). Dingle, a fishing port and a name I just had to squeeze in here, is particularly worth a visit. And it's nice that, in Ireland, they drive on the proper side of the road - and I'm gradually getting used to those foreign Euro things they use in place of real money. Plus, the people we met everywhere were friendly and helpful, and the food and drink excellent.


The Cliffs of Moher, very impressive

Lahinch beach and surfing town

One really interesting place to visit in the Limerick area is Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. It seems that Viscount Lord Gort purchased the derelict castle (built around 1425) and grounds for 1000 pounds in 1954, and spent fifteen years rebuilding and restoring it. It's full of amazing treasures, and provides wonderful views of the surrounding countryside and the Shannon river. The Folk Park is a reconstructed area of houses and agricultural buildings that span a large period of Irish history, and is full of interesting things to see. Just make sure, however, that you don't go at lunchtime, because all the shops seem to close for two hours. It reminded me of the comedian Jasper Carrott's remarks after he visited a town named Goole (in Humberside, England). As well as referring to the inhabitants as Goolies, he said that it was the only place he'd been where all the cafes and restaurants closed for lunch.


Bunratty Folk Park, reconstructed old Irish street

Bunratty Castle

The mill pond at Bunratty Folk Park

So, would I recommend Ireland as a holiday destination? Yes, whole-heartedly. It's obviously a very popular place with tourists (we saw and heard people from all over the world). The only letdown, as far as we were concerned, were some unpleasant surprises on the day we left. Firstly, being presented with a bill for electricity and heating oil (about $40) before leaving the cottage was unexpected - I told my wife she'd ended up paying extra for the electric she used to vacuum the place before we left, which didn't go down well!

Even worse, however, is the cavalier approach Hertz seem to have to their customers. We pre-paid about $250 through their Web site to rent the car for five days, including full insurance. On arrival, when collecting the car, they mentioned that the "full insurance" doesn't cover the excess you still have to pay for any damage, and that the excess - would you believe - is "between 1000 and 1600 Euros" (about $1300 - $2000). So I paid the extra 60 Euros ($80) just in case someone scratched the side of the car in a car park.

And it gets worse. On returning the car, we were presented with another bill for 164 Euros ($210)! It seems that they forgot to tell me when I picked it up that they charge 60 Euros for a second driver (I put my wife down in case of emergencies, like popping to the shop for more Guinness), 10 Euros (on top of the cost of the fuel) to fill it up, and 35 Euros "location charge". When I asked what "location charge" is, they said it was to cover returning it to the airport. But I hired it from the airport in the first place, because that's where the Hertz office is! Maybe they work like airports do when charging airlines - landings are free (you can have as many as you like for nothing), and you only have to pay for take-offs.

No doubt all this is in the small print somewhere, but when I rent from Avis (who I usually use) they seem to be able to tell you up front what you need to pay. No wonder the Avis desk at the airport had a queue and there was nobody at the Hertz desk. Next time I'll be at the back of the Avis queue. Still, it could have been worse. The guy in front of me at the Hertz return desk had had someone reverse into his car in a car park and they'd broken the rear light glass and scratched the bumper (fender). He'd obviously not bothered with the extra insurance because he was arguing with them about the $2000 bill they presented him with! I wish I worked for the garage that did their repair work.

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